More laughter rings round LSO St Lukes in the second half of the morning session. Aziz Sadikowic, a tall Viennese, apologises in that rather overdone way you have to when you interrupt a singer as she’s about to launch her next salvo. The orchestra laugh along – it’s not the first time he’s stopped Magdalena Molendowska in her tracks this morning. He has even dared to make some suggestions to her, another eggshell-treading enterprise.
He spends a substantial amount of time working on the detail of this short orchestral recitative. The orchestra have only brief interjections to play but he wants to get them just so. Inevitably this isn’t exactly the same way the conductors who have gone before him want it, but the Guildhall students don’t lose focus and adapt as required. This kind of fiddling around can be deeply frustrating for players. On this occasion, however, Sadikowic gets away with it and the orchestra will give him a big and genuinely felt round of applause when eventually his time is up.
He began by playing through most of the first movement of the concerto, picking up the orchestral introduction near the first entry of the violin at such a speed (he evidently has a liking for fast tempos) and intensity that it sounded like the title music for some 1930s Hollywood noir thriller/romance. Always good to hear familiar things in a new light.
Before him, Lio Kuokman, from Portugal, shows himself to be a deft manager of another potentially tricky environment: getting to grips with a contemporary score. A combination of things – unfamiliarity with the music, its sometimes brain-sizzling complexity, the sheer racket it can make at times – can make players fidgety as they try to grapple with the problem in front of them (I mean the score, not the conductor). Kuokman is decisive in how he deals with rehearsing McCormack’s piece, intent simply to fix issues quickly and without over-analysing. He seems to hear this music well too, with a good ear for the balance between instruments.
Rounding off the morning is Maxime Tortelier. His biography for the competition notes that he was ‘born into a musical family’, which is putting it mildly so let’s leave it there. Like most of the others, he chose not to spend time rehearsing the concerto – it’s a shame some of the detail of the orchestral accompaniment for this piece isn’t getting so much attention, but I can see why a conductor would want to let its sweep take control.
Like Sadikowic, Tortelier has long arms and this can have its disadvantages, particularly in music where musicians need very clear and tight beats to follow (Kuokman’s style is ideal). Yes, it’s back to contemporary music again. Tortelier is conscious of this need and, sure enough, keeps his movements simple and direct, contained – at points keeping his arms more or less still and conducting from the wrist alone.
It’s a technique that works. ‘Any casualties?’ he asks with a smile at the end of a run-through of McCormack’s piece. There were none.